A Seattle police officer seen on video posted to social media earlier this week walking his bike over the head of a protester lying on the ground has been suspended while authorities investigate the incident.
The officer will be placed on administrative leave after the head of the city’s civilian-led Office of Police Accountability, Andrew Myerberg, asked for a criminal investigation into the matter, citing “potential violations” of police policy “as well as potential criminal conduct.”
Neither the officer nor the protester have been officially named.
In a statement, the Seattle Police Department said Thursday that it had referred the incident to the King County Sheriff’s Office.
“During the demonstration that occurred last night, the Seattle Police Department was notified of an incident where, on video, it appears an SPD officer walked the wheels of his bicycle over an individual lying in the street,” the department said, adding that it had immediately activated the Force Investigation Team and alerted the OPA.
“The SPD is fully committed to the oversight and transparency systems the City has in place. The SPD calls on the community to encourage peaceful protests and conversation, and bring an end to continued destruction and violence,” the statement read.
The incident occurred around midnight Wednesday into Thursday as demonstrators thronged the city’s Capitol Hill neighborhood to protest the announcement that a Kentucky grand jury decided not to directly charge three Louisville police officers over the killing of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor in March.
It also comes amid a shakeup in Seattle’s police department that saw the exit earlier this month of its first Black police chief, Carmen Best, who stepped down after 28 years on the force.
Best’s retirement announcement closely followed a City Council vote to reduce funding for the department — something that has been a key demand of protesters who’ve marched for months since the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.
Mayor Jenny Durkan vetoed those changes to the 2020 budget, but the City Council voted Tuesday to override her veto, redirecting some of the money for community programs.
Shortly after Best’s retirement, interim police Chief Adrian Diaz announced that the Seattle PoliceDepartment was reassigning 100 officers from specialty units to patrol as part of an effort to increase community engagement and speed up emergency response times.
“There is more to this than having more cars on the street or getting to emergency calls faster,” Diaz said, according to member station KUOW. “One of my primary goals as chief is to reinvent what community engagement looks like for this police department. It is tough to engage community from inside a car, but when you are going from call-to-call, that is really the only option we have.”